Gamma Rays for Christmas

GRB_111209AThe gamma ray burst (GRB) from GRB 111209A (aka the Christmas Burst) was detected in early December, 2011. The blast produced high-energy emission for an astonishing seven hours, the longest-duration GRB ever observed. This false-color image shows the event as captured by the X-ray Telescope aboard NASA’s Swift satellite. Because the distance to the burst was not measured initially, astronomers came up with a couple of radically different interpretations. In one scenario, a solitary neutron star in our own galaxy shredded and accreted an approaching comet-like body. In the other, a neutron star spiraled into and was eaten by a giant star in a distant galaxy. Now, a third explanation has been advanced. After a measurement of the Christmas Burst’s host galaxy, it appears that the GRB resulted from the collapse and explosion of a supergiant star hundreds of times larger than the sun.


Image Credit: NASA

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